On Monday, Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) announced at a press conference that he will be introducing the “Keep Schools Open and Safe Act” to require COVID-19 vaccines for in-person school attendance.
The bill would add COVID-19 vaccines to the list of required inoculations for attending K-12 schools in California.
Bill Would Close Personal Exemption Loophole for COVID-19 School Vaccinations, Builds on Success of SB 277 Law
SACRAMENTO – Today, Senator Dr. Richard Pan introduced the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act, to close the personal belief exemption loophole for school-based vaccination requirements for COVID-19.
The Keep Schools Open and Safe Act builds on SB 277, also sponsored by Dr. Pan, which eliminated the personal belief exemption loophole for all other childhood vaccinations required for public and private school students when it became law in 2015. After passage of SB 277, vaccination rates dramatically increased for childhood diseases such as measles.
Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a statewide school vaccination mandate, but under state law, only the Legislature may remove the personal belief exemption.
Dr. Richard Pan, state senator and pediatrician said, “As the parent of two school students, I understand parents need confidence and certainty that their child’s school is safe and can be in-person. The most effective way to keep schools open and safe is to ensure the COVID vaccination rate of students and school staff is as high as possible in addition to masks, testing, and good ventilation to minimize infections. My legislation will give parents great certainty that their child is unlikely to get seriously sick and their school will stay open during COVID.”
On January 19, Dr. Pan and six other legislators announced the formation of a legislative Vaccine Work Group to facilitate coordinated action to promote vaccines and science-based public health policy.
Dr. Pan announced the new legislation today at a press conference at Arleta High School in Los Angeles. He was joined at the press conference by the following bill supporters:
Los Angeles Unified Board President Kelly Gonez
Los Angeles Unified Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly
San Diego Unified Board Member Richard Barrera
California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D.
Wendy Bloom, RN, Organizing Director at ProtectUS said, “On behalf of the parents, grandparents, students and workers that make up the Pro-Vaccine Majority, we applaud Dr. Pan for once again leading the way to make our communities safe and healthy. I have been a Registered Nurse working at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland for the last 35 years. The Keep Schools Open and Safe Act is necessary to protect these at-risk students and allow them to attend in-person learning. All students deserve equal access to quality education regardless of their health status. Only through high vaccination rates will it be safe for my patients to attend school.”
“Keeping our students and employees as safe as possible has been a top priority for Los Angeles Unified during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Los Angeles Unified Board President Kelly Gonez and Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly said. “We have maintained continuity of instruction while establishing the largest school-based COVID-19 testing program and keeping more than 1,400 schools open since August 16, our first day of school. The science is clear – vaccinations are an essential part of protection against COVID-19. Los Angeles Unified applauds the nearly 90 percent of our students aged 12 and older and their families who are in compliance with our vaccine requirement. Senator Pan’s bill will support widespread student vaccination and ensure local educational agencies across the state can safely and effectively navigate the pandemic. A statewide vaccine mandate will promote uniform health and safety protocols and is aligned with the intent of other existing vaccination statutes.”
Richard Barrera, a member of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education said, “Local school districts are doing everything we can to keep our schools safe so that students can continue to learn in person. Our educators and staff are vaccinated. We are making vaccines easily available and accessible to our students. We welcome this necessary legislation by our state leaders to help end the roller coaster of the pandemic and allow schools to go back to focusing on what we do best – educating our students.”
California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D. said, “As COVID cases and hospitalizations of children are rising due to more infectious variants, we know that vaccination is our greatest defense. Too many children are not yet fully vaccinated and are left vulnerable to this serious disease. California needs policies to minimize the threat of COVID-19 to children, and the California Medical Association appreciates the leadership of Dr. Richard Pan for working to protect children’s health and their right to safe schools.”
Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, Director of Safely Opening Schools at the Public Health Institute said, “Having everyone in the school community fully vaccinated is essential to making our schools safe for all. This bill is urgently needed so schools can go back full-time to what they do best – educating our children.”
Teens for Vaccines founder Arin Parsa said, “Requiring immunization against COVID-19 is how we keep schools open and safe. While closing schools at the beginning of the pandemic was necessary, we now have safe and highly effective vaccines. LAUSD and SDUSD prove that mandates work, that high vaccination rates keep schools open and safe. Teens for Vaccines is excited to support the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act.”
Alvin Lee, Executive Director of GENup said, “Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, student learning has been widely disrupted across the state. Not only have our students suffered physically, but also mentally and emotionally. We’ve seen virtual learning exacerbate those inequities – whether it’s access to mental health resources or unequal access to technological connectivity. Despite recent returns back to in person schooling, surging COVID-19 cases are threatening schools once again back to virtual learning. As such, ensuring every student is vaccinated will be critical if we are to return to a sense of normalcy in our nation’s largest education system. The data is clear: vaccines work! As such, we urge legislators to pass the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act to protect our state’s 6 million students and to put student wellbeing and safety first!”
Last week, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 866, the Teens Choose Vaccines Act. SB 866 allows young people 12 years and older to get vaccinated without parental consent.
Under existing law, young people ages 12 and 17 cannot be vaccinated without parental consent, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a disease that is sexually transmitted. This serves as a significant barrier to teen health in California, particularly in situations where parents and children hold conflicting views about vaccines. Parental consent requirements for vaccines are also a barrier in cases where a child is experiencing medical neglect, or simply because working or otherwise busy parents are not available to take their children to medical visits. Low-income children may experience longer waits to get vaccinated because their parents may work longer hours — often without paid time off — and can’t take them to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
Young people age 12 and 17 can also get birth control and abortions, as well as medical treatment for sexually transmitted infections, drug and alcohol-related disorders, injuries resulting from sexual assaults and intimate partner violence, and mental health disorders – all without parental consent. In addition, various states already allow minors to access vaccines without parental consent, including Alabama, South Carolina, Washington, DC, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
This problem has implications far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Measles, for example, spreads efficiently among unvaccinated youth, whose parents have sadly chosen to block them from receiving a potentially life-saving vaccine. Measles was, at one time, considered eliminated in the United States. But vaccine misinformation and hesitancy has allowed it to spread once again.
Allowing young people to get vaccinated is critical not only for physical health, but for mental health, too. The United States Department of Health and Human Services found that adolescents ages 12-17 are seven times more likely to experience a new or recurring mental health issue after getting sick with COVID-19. And studies have found that school closures over the past couple of years have led to negative impacts on teens’ mental health, and academic achievement, and have widened class-based academic disparities. While school closures may have been necessary earlier in the pandemic when vaccines weren’t widely available, we now have the tools to keep students and teachers healthy and in the classroom.
Legislators Form Vaccine Work Group to Boost Public Health Policies
SACRAMENTO, CA – As COVID-19 surges and causes an alarming increase in hospitalizations and cases among children, California legislators announced the formation of the legislative Vaccine Work Group that is developing cohesive and comprehensive, evidence-based policies to strengthen our ability to stop the spread of COVID and other diseases, while battling misinformation.
The founding members of the Vaccine Work Group include Senator Dr. Richard Pan, Senator Scott Weiner, Senator Josh Newman, Assemblymember Akilah Weber, MD, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and Assemblymember Evan Low.
The Vaccine Work Group is examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” said Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
“Vaccines are miracles of science — one of the gifts of modern life. I’m energized to be a member of the vaccine working group and to fight alongside my colleagues against the misinformation and extremism that have kept so many from getting vaccinated. Vaccines have saved countless lives during the COVID-19 pandemic — just as they have for horrific diseases like smallpox, polio, and measles — and we need to continue ramping up vaccinations and boosters across California. The Vaccine Work Group will help California get there,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).
“The world is suffering from all of the impacts of COVID-19 and Californians are suffering along with everyone else,” said Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). “We would like to return to our pre-pandemic lives as soon as possible and that will require immunization for everyone. We know that the vaccines are effective, so the challenge now is to educate people to ignore all of the deadly misinformation being served to them daily. It’s an honor to work alongside this group of legislators whose focus is the health and safety of every person in this state.”
“The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought devastating effects to every city, county and area of California,” said Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-San Diego). “Our objectives are clear—we are prioritizing the health and safety of all Californians. I am looking forward to crafting legislation with my colleagues that acts to protect all populations across the state.”
“Science has saved millions of Americans from needless disease, disability, and even death, from smallpox through the COVID pandemic,” said Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). “There is no excuse to allow people to live at risk when our health systems can protect them. My colleagues and I will rely on science to show us the way to a healthier future for every Californian and visitor to our Great State.”
“Vaccines represent the archetype of public health — a social compact, and a belief in doing our part to protect each other and the communities we love,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). “Getting our vaccination rates up is our best chance of preventing more death and disability across California, and I’m so proud to unite with this group of legislators to advance data-driven policies that will save lives and protect the people we serve.”
“The historic formation of the Vaccine Work Group by California Legislators is so critical right now because we must not lose sight of our fundamental belief in science and facts when forming and implementing public health policies. These forward-thinking public policy leaders know that vaccines save lives and if we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, California Immunization Coalition Executive Director
“The death and disability caused by COVID is the worst we’ve ever seen, and yet in States around the country we see too many politicians avoiding discussion or action around life-saving safety measures like vaccines, masking and testing. That is why it means so much to have legislators take this historic step and raise their voices for the pro-vaccine majority.” Crystal Strait, ProtectUS Board Chair